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Tepeyac Students Show Nose for News Lit

Zack Saltzman
Students in a news literacy class at Our Lady of Tepeyac do a video interview of Amina Ismail, an Egyptian journalist who covered the protests in Cairo during the Arab Spring. Photo by Mary Owen
Education. Housing. Public health. These are topics that hit close to home in most communities -- and weighty matters for even the most seasoned journalist.

But students in a news literacy class at Chicago’s Our Lady of Tepeyac High School succeeded in tackling the issues head on by applying lessons they learned from the News Literacy Project’s curriculum.

“NLP’s curriculum and programs are designed to spark students’ critical thinking about the news and other information they encounter in their daily lives, and to enable them to make the leap into becoming creators of credible information that is relevant to their lives,” said Peter Adams, NLP’s senior vice president for educational programs. “The student work at Our Lady of Tepeyac High School demonstrates how engaged and empowered students become when they learn not just how to sort fact from fiction in today’s information landscape, but why the ability to do so is so important.”

Tepeyac is an all-girls Catholic school in Little Village on Chicago’s West Side. During the 2014-15 school year, the school and three others piloted a special news literacy class in a partnership with NLP and the Big Shoulders Fund, an organization that supports Catholic schools in Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods.

For the final class project, teacher Jeff Zimmerman, who worked with Chicago Program Manager Erika Hobbs, asked his students to act as watchdog journalists and produce a short audio or video documentary about a problem or issue affecting their communities that they felt most passionate about.

“We tried to teach not just news literacy, but civics as well,” Zimmerman said. The challenge he gave them, he said, was to not only demonstrate the standards of journalism and to leverage the power of information, but also to find ways to bring real change to their neighborhoods.

The topics the students chose included tracking the abandoned housing units, advocating for smoking cessation advocacy, and discovering how the community perceives a local public school. One project sought to dispel myths about homelessness.

Not only did students display profound knowledge and social awareness about these topics, Zimmerman said, but they clearly demonstrated that they knew how to determine the veracity of information, as well.

Joselyn Reyes and Dennis Garrido produced a documentary on a pressing issue in their home town of Cicero: how town officials should manage what is widely acknowledged to be an alarmingly high number of abandoned houses. Through interviews with a housing inspector and a concerned member of the community, the pair addressed the issues of blight, safety and property values in a fair, balanced and compelling way.

“Without NLP and Erika’s journalistic expertise, this would not have been possible,” Zimmerman said.

The News Literacy Project equips middle school and high school students with the tools to be smart, active consumers of news and information and engaged and informed citizens. The non-profit organization, founded in 2008 by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Alan C. Miller, offers both classroom-based and digital programs that offer in-depth news literacy lessons and connects students to prominent journalists around the world.